Thursday 19 October 2017

'Winning has been a kind of fantasy' - Hennessy Literary Award New Irish Writer of the Year winner secures agent

Rachel Donohue
Rachel Donohue
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

The winner of the Hennessy Literary Awards for Emerging Fiction and New Irish Writer of the Year has secured a literary agent on the back of her win.

Rachel Donohue (40) from Dublin won the prestigious awards last month for her short story, ‘The Taking of Mrs Kennedy’ and has since been signed up by London-based Irish agent Ivan Mulcahy.

“It’s a massive boost,” says Rachel.  “My aim now is to be working on a longer piece.  I’ll have advice and tips and support – getting an agent is really, really helpful.”

Rachel had previously been shortlisted for First Fiction in 2013 and Emerging Fiction in 2014 so to win both in 2017 was a big surprise.

“Just to be nominated was a big win for me because the standard is so high and this competition has such a heritage. I literally went along on the night because I thought it would be a nice evening and I could talk about books!” she reveals.

“Winning has been a kind of fantasy.  It just validates your work and you have the feeling that maybe you have a story people are interested to read and there might be people who would like to read more of what you do.”

However, says she wrote the story for herself rather than specifically for competition. 

“It’s kind of something I do as much as I can so I didn’t have the competition in mind at all,” she reveals.

“It’s a story I had been working on as well as a number of different things and I thought it was ready so I put it away for six months and didn’t do anything.  I always have to get that moment of courage up before I send it out.”

The mum of two has been writing creatively since she took maternity leave with her second daughter Charlotte (now 7) although her day job in PR and communications also involves writing, albeit in a different vein.

“I really like my job and I actually do a lot of writing so I’m always kind of in that space,” she says.

“I feel that working sometimes can really help to keep the well filled creatively.  I would be a bit nervous if I took a complete break or time away that maybe I would have difficulty just keeping that well filled. 

“Through my work I meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet, I go to places I wouldn’t ordinarily go, so it keeps me stimulated and able to observe and just get out of my comfort zone at times.”

However, she admits that sometimes it’s difficult to traverse both worlds.

“At times I do feel a bit like creatively have you drained that well?  For me I suppose I feel a bit uneasy or incomplete if I don’t do creative writing.  I feel like I haven’t processed the day properly.  Even to sit down for half an hour from the point of view of my own sense of self.  You do find the time when it’s important to you.”

Given she has a full time job and two children (she’s also mum to 10-year-old Ava), she relies on a “great childminder” and “a husband who is fantastic in terms of giving me space on the weekends and doing the swimming or whatever to give me a bit of a breather.  He’s been so supportive.” 

Husband Gerard, who works in accounting and finance, has been reading her work and giving an "honest appraisal" over the years.

Unlike many emerging writers these days who find encouragement, support and feedback within writing groups, it has been a relatively solitary journey for Rachel who feels a competition is a somewhat “safer” way of sharing her work with her peers.

“I know a lot of people join writing groups and they get feedback on their work but it’s not something I have ever done,” she says.

“With a competition it’s almost anonymous.  You’re not reading your work in front of people. For me it’s kind of a safer way of getting your work out there but for other people there is huge value in feedback from their peer group at writing groups.  

“I wouldn’t really have a huge amount of connections to the writing community here.  I’ve kind of done it on my own.  But there was a lovely reaction, a very positive reaction when I won which was fantastic.

“I am quite solitary so it was lovely to get out and about more and understand a bit more about how people have made it work for them.

“I’d like to step more into that community. The standard and quality of Irish writing is great.  There are some great voices coming through.  It’s an exciting time for Irish literature.  It’s definitely in a good place.”

Read Rachel's winning story: The Taking of Mrs Kennedy

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